I’ve been working in the marketing department of an independent bookstore for the last six months and have learnt quite a lot of truths that affect how a self-publisher gets their book into a local store. I’m in Australia, so these tips are localised. They may work internationally, but as I’ve never worked in another book store, I’m not sure.
So, here are the truths I’ve learnt:
- Using Ingram Spark is best. Check your prices are relevant to others similar to yours. Also check to make sure that the bookseller is getting the right RRP price. Sometimes Ingram can go off a base price in US dollars and mark up the RRP in Australian to something ridiculous. You can call Ingram to make sure it’s all coming in at a particular price to the bookseller.
- Don’t pay extra to put it in the Marketing magazine from Ingram. Similarly, your marketing copy may not even get looked at.
- Visiting the store in person with a care package works best. Make an appointment, because this is what the publishers sales reps do. Make sure your care package is set up to include a copy of the book, a targeted sales letter (including where your book fits in the bookstore), any publicity you’ve had regarding the book. Do you have a large following on your social media or blog? Can you direct book sales exclusively back to their store as a return favour for them stocking your book? You want to make the decision as easy as you can for them.
- Bookstores are too busy to chase you up. You call them.
- Don’t be pushy. You’ll get shut down.
- Look at the kind of books the bookstore sells. The one I work at focuses more on literary fiction and not romance. So, half my titles are out.
- About the sales rep process: A rep from each publisher comes in with a stack of free sample books and a list a mile long to show the buyer. They do this monthly. A book store may have up to 5+ weekly appointments over an hour long. You have to become your own sales rep. Give away free review copies of your book. I know this can be expensive, maybe try getting together with a bunch of other self-pubbed authors or pay for one or use a distributer like Dennis Jones or New South Books.
- The ratio of fiction to non-fiction sales isn’t as much as you think. Non-fiction way outsells fiction. This is partly due to the nature of non-fiction books having a higher price point, but also there’s something about people willing to spend money on learning.
- Book stores are not dead. Well, the smart ones aren’t.
- Don’t take rejection personally.
When a sales rep comes in with a list a mile long of new titles, the buyer is ruthless, picking out only a select few they believe are going to sell. If you’re not on the list, you’re not on it. Go back to the drawing board and write some more. Try writing something to market.
- If they’re considering it, they will check the nelson book scan site, so make sure your details are up to date.
- I read once that booksellers like to see whether you have any language warnings on there or explicitly violent or sexual scenes. This is going a bit far, in my opinion. When I asked the staff, they said my warnings just made them laugh. So, just worry about marketing your book in the right genre.
- Bookstores send back unsold copies to the publishers all the time so they are taking a risk when accepting Indie books without a return policy. I’m not saying you should offer this policy because bookstores are well versed in the differences between indie and traditionally published books, but if you decide to offer it, definitely put it on the sales letter.
- Make sure the quality of your cover is professional, meaning, if you hold it up next to others in its genre, can you tell it is self-published?
- Some stores have self-published title procedures. Call to make sure you are following theirs.
- Most bookstores expect a 40-50% discount off the RRP.
- If your book is set locally, you may stand a better chance.
- Considering you may only sell a handful of copies a year from one store, consider if your time is really worth it. If you have too much to learn, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to write the next book.
So, what do you think? Are any of these tips useful to you? Did any surprise you? Do you work in a bookstore as a buyer – is there anything else you’d like to add? Please comment below.